Lindbergh: The Mookie Betts trade is unprecedented in baseball history

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer on February 5, 2020:

On Tuesday night, the Boston Red Sox ended months of low-level disbelief and bemusement—and incited several news cycles of intense disbelief and bemusement—by following through on their long-rumored intention to trade right fielder Mookie Betts. Boston reportedly sent Betts, along with pitcher David Price and cash, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team trade, netting 23-year-old Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo and 21-year-old Minnesota Twins pitcher Brusdar Graterol in return. (The Dodgers sent pitcher Kenta Maeda to the Twins to seal the deal.)

A deal of this magnitude demands multiple angles of inquiry: what it means for the Dodgers from a competitive standpoint; what it means for the Red Sox from a financial and competitive standpoint; what it tells us about baseball’s economics at large; and, less pressingly, what it means for Minnesota. I’m not going to tackle all of those angles here. I’m here to express something simple: the stupendous improbability that a player like Mookie was moved at all. To put it plainly: This swap is unprecedented. No player boasting Betts’s combination of excellence and youth has ever been traded before.

When ESPN’s Jesse Rogers surveyed 15 baseball insiders in late November about which of the three 20-something superstars rumored to be on the block—Betts, Francisco Lindor, and Kris Bryant—was most likely to be traded, zero picked Betts. That’s partly because the Red Sox are a big-market, deep-pocket franchise with a title less than 2 years old and a competitive roster, which makes them precisely the last type of team that typically considers off-loading a widely beloved player who made them much better (as noted, a subject for a separate article). But it’s also partly because Betts isn’t just any perennial all-star. He’s baseball’s second-best player, and he’s still in his prime. That’s not the type of player any team tends to trade.

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Originally published: February 5, 2020. Last Updated: February 5, 2020.